I love white space too, but…please do something with your homepage

It still amazes me when I receive a list of firm websites from someone – and more than 50% of them are dysfunctional. Perhaps even more surprising is that I usually receive them as a list of aspirational competitors, top-notch designers, distinguished panelists, etc. Basically, “these are people that we look up to, so go check them out.”

One thing I see entirely too much of is completely useless homepages. Literally, the face for what could impact 97% of your client’s decisions is a barren wasteland of a screen with a cleverly placed firm name…maybe an address if you’re lucky. Fifteen years ago, as businesses were clamoring to “just get something up there” this might have cut it. But today, it’s a shot in the foot to architecture firms everywhere.

Regardless of where your architectural sensibilities fall on the form/function debate, your website doesn’t have to prove your point. Your homepage has a few seconds to impress people (to be read: potential clients) and convince them to hear or read what you have to say about design. USE IT. Here are five reasons why your homepage might not be doing its job.

  • The majority of traffic to your website starts at your homepage, unless you’re doing a great job with custom landing pages and marketing campaigns for your architecture firm. Keep in mind that likely 40% or more of that traffic “bounces” immediately from the first page they see. Translation: 40% of the people that came to your website saw your firm name on a blank page, then left.
  • If you have a one HTML page website with a bunch of Flash embedded circa the 90’s/early 00’s – you can likely assume that search engines see one page with very little (or no) info about your firm. That’s pretty much killing your firm in the SEO department.
  • Thumbnails alone don’t cut it anymore. There’s nothing wrong with using the images themselves, but if your homepage is 95% empty with a few images on the screen – the impact of those thumbnails has been diminished significantly by current monitor resolutions/sizes.
  • You may be unconventional, but most of your visitors probably aren’t. They need things like links back to your homepage and consistent positioning of nav. Hiding your navigation or making it difficult to stop a swooshing, sweeping, portfolio to see one project description won’t help even the most creative of clients realize how much they like you.
  • Last, but not least – don’t make people wait! If you have a Flash (shudders) or heavily scripted homepage that takes a few seconds to load for you, assume it takes much longer for a first time visitor to your site. This is because, depending on how your site is built, certain aspects are saved or cached to speed up your browser’s load on the next time around. Compound that with the fact that all of your homepage content is contained in that fancy animation and you have potential clients looking at a blank screen for several seconds.

 

Getting Press for Your A/E Firm

After a fantastic SMPS DC program last week, I left energized and enlightened.

Two top-notch professionals presented their sides of the story, when it comes to pitching the media. Karen Nussle, owner of Ripple Communications (@karennussle on Twitter), and Katie Weeks, editor of Eco-Structure magazine (@katieweeks on Twitter) shared the ins and outs of media relations in a concise and relevant fashion for all of the communications professionals in the room.

There were so many fantastic pieces of advice flying around that it was hard to capture them all, but one of the things that stuck out the most to me was the focus on making an editor’s life easier. I felt like it was rattling around in the back of my head all along, but it wasn’t until they said it that it really dawned on me – THAT’s what we should be doing as marketers and PR professionals.

Our pitches aren’t about us, and they shouldn’t be written for us; they’re about the editors and ultimately the readers. Here are three, quick related pieces of advice in my own words.

Help Them Find the Story – Don’t just email over a release about a project, explain why it’s a story worthy of their publication or website. If you can’t do that then don’t send it.

Avoid Pitching Competing Pubs, or Be Honest If You Do – Nobody wants to feel like they got scooped or waste time working on a story that is already running somewhere else.

Know the Pub You’re Pitching – Don’t waste time pitching stories that already ran or sending in information about your latest groundbreaking to a pub that doesn’t run project profiles.

At the end of the day, everybody has a job to do. Content publishers are hungry for good stories, and your firm is hungry for good coverage. Know when you have a solid pitch and put the effort into matching it with the right pub.

Make the Most of the AIA 2012 National Convention

I’m very excited and honored to be helping the DC Chapter of the AIA in promoting the 2012 National Convention. Because of my involvement, I’ve been lucky enough to get a bit of a sneak peek at the awesome Host Chapter events the team has planned this year and thought I’d take a moment to share some teaser info and offer a little helpful marketing advice for attendees!

Registration isn’t open yet, but the chapter has lined up more than 100 educational tours and events, ranging from touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s work to having a night out with the Nationals. So, once registration is open, it’s probably safe to say that spots will clear out fast. Beyond getting registered early, here are three ways to increase the value of your trip to the AIA National Convention and get the most out of your time and investment.

Sponsor, and Do It ASAP

Sponsorships can be difficult to justify sometimes, especially when there are only limited ways to do so and few of them meet the demands of your marketing budget. However, this year there are so many different ways to sponsor that you can choose one that makes the most sense for you. If you plan to sponsor, do it EARLY to maximize the exposure you can get for your investment. Also, capture the effectiveness of your sponsorship by sending traffic to a landing page when possible, not just the homepage of your firm or business.

Volunteer

Sponsorships costs money, but volunteering costs nothing. In fact, volunteers save $50 off of their registration this year. The major benefit to volunteering is a richer connection with more business contacts though. It can sometimes be difficult to break the ice at a convention, but being a volunteer allows even the biggest wallflower to be a resource and opens up communication with peers you may never have met.

Get Up and Get Out!

The conference floor or classrooms are not the only place to meet people. Getting out and taking part in some of the tours can actually put you in a better, more comfortable networking environment, so that you have a chance to develop business while getting your Learning Units.

Useful Info

This wouldn’t be a very helpful post if I didn’t at least share some points of contact. If you think sponsoring sounds right for your firm, Jody Cranford is in charge of sponsorships for the chapter and she can be reached at 800-818-0289 ext. 101. The chapter also has a volunteer coordinator, Liz Reynolds, and she can be contacted at lreynolds@manceandassociates.com.

I hope to be able to share more info about the convention throughout the coming months. Be sure to check back and click this link if you’d like to view posts specific to the convention, I’ll use the Label “AIA National Convention”.

5 HUGE Differences Between Diversifying and Scattered Marketing

Among a long list of words I’d like to ban, somewhere in the middle lies the word “diversify”.

It isn’t really a bad word, per se; it’s just so often used incorrectly that I’ve grown to cringe when I hear it.

Investors diversify their portfolios, but they don’t do it by buying every stock that they hear about on TV or read about on the web. They do it by selecting a few options that are strategically aligned with the rest of their portfolio – items that offset a potential weakness in their assets, or items that reflect a well-rounded approach to their financial goals. To buy and sell stocks based on what’s “hot” is not diversifying, it’s just trading.

In the A/E world, we talk about diversifying our portfolios in very much the same way. Unfortunately, for many firms the word is completely misused, and is more akin to just a scattered approach to marketing. So, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 differences between diversifying and pursuing every opportunity that comes through the inbox.

1. Diversifying Requires a Plan
If your firm is truly diversifying, it must do so in both the Business Plan and the Marketing Plan. In those plans, there should be specific markets to focus on, not just an overall revenue target. If your firm doesn’t have one or both of these plans, there is a good chance it isn’t diversifying.

2. Diversifying Has Nothing to Do with Chasing the Money
Chasing the next big public budget that’s about to be announced is also not diversifying. It would be silly to choose to focus on a new client-type without awareness of what’s going on in the market, but chasing budgets does nothing for your firm except keep you in constant flux and burn your marketing department out.

3. Diversifying Starts from Within
Diversifying is a decision that starts from within the firm and takes into account expertise, resources and your plan. Starting internally keeps your marketing messages honest, accurate and on-brand as you focus on new endeavors. Choosing to diversify based solely on what’s going on outside of your walls is reactive, scattered marketing and never allows you to develop an expert presence with any client type.

4.  Diversifying Is Not a Business Development Activity
Yep, you read correctly. Diversifying is a function of marketing, operations, finance – the entire organization – and it has very little to do with Business Development until the end of the cycle. A good BD professional can get in a lot of doors and help win contracts with new clients, but without the professional infrastructure and expertise in place, that win is unsustainable.

5.  Diversifying Takes Commitment and Time
For an industry with such a long project life-cycle, often our marketing expectations are flat out unrealistic. Many firms begin with a plan and abandon it within six months because they haven’t seen enough new leads. Strategic activities in professional services firms can take years. Diversifying means considering options like mergers & acquisition – things that aren’t overnight decisions!

True diversification is an investment, and it can be a risky one that requires an immense amount of change in an A/E firm. If you find your firm discussing diversifying, but realize that you’re not really putting much on the line to do it, there is a very good chance you’re just pursuing work with a low hit-rate.